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After opening Prospect Week by examining my top five prospects and the other one with clear upward momentum, we now move on to the second day’s worth of groups:
Areas of weakness
Guys who have to clear at least one big hurdle to raise their ceilings
Carson Fulmer: In-start durability. Given the thinness of the pitching staff, only an injury will prevent Fulmer from losing his prospect status, so the number doesn’t really matter. That said, he’d rather graduate as a starter than as a reliever, and Carlos Rodon’s injury opens up a spot for an extended rotation trial.
After a wobbly season in Charlotte, Fulmer succeeded in five- and six-inning stints in September by going on the attack with his cutter, so I imagine that will be the look again, at least until he and the last year’s other curveball-oriented rookies figure out how to spin the MLB ball.
Come to think of it, the lack of curveball command might be one obstacle to a bullpen switch at this point, because the Jesse Crain high-low combo would be the foundation of such an approach.
Dylan Cease: Durability. Cease threw 93 innings between the Cubs’ and White Sox’ Sally League affiliates, which more than doubled his previous high, as post-draft Tommy John surgery altered the start of his career. He was largely limited to five innings a start, and he missed the end of the season with shoulder fatigue. This could all be precautionary for a starter who will be able to throw 120 innings in 2017, but 2018 is the time for the 21-year-old to build up his starter credentials. He struck out 126 batters with his high-90s fastball and sharp curveball, which is why it’ll be tempting to move him to the bullpen.
Zack Collins: Hit tool. Collins came into the year with people only questioning his catching. That part has improved to “still iffy,” as his arm works but the receiving doesn’t. The bigger concern is the 118 strikeouts over 101 games and the .223 average in the Carolina League, because the bat was supposed to play anywhere.
His batting eye is elite and couples well with his all-fields power, but neither will emerge in the majors if pitchers fear attacking him. He spent the instructional league working on reducing the hitch in his swing. The addition of Welington Castillo buys him time to hone it, although Seby Zavala will be competing for catching reps on a similar timeline.
Blake Rutherford: Power. Rutherford hit .260/.326/.348 over 101 games in A-ball last year. The first two columns are more or less fine from a prep pick in his first full pro season. The last points toward the problem, which was far more apparent after the Tommy Kahnle trade. Rutherford hit just .213/.289/.254 in Kannapolis. You could find all his extra-base hits in the doubles column, and there were only five of them in 30 games.
Power was theoretical with Rutherford on draft day. He doesn’t sell out with his swing, so it’s more from growing enough physically to make more of that direct line to the ball. He says he’s getting bigger, because not only has he added muscle, but the 20-year-old says he also grew another inch or so. The outside observers would likely remain comfortable with his profile had he hit a lot of flyouts, but more than half of his batted balls were on the ground, so he’s fighting a two-front war in producing stronger contact. That’s why he’s tumbled off most top-100 prospects lists. Time’s still on his side, but the concerns are legitimate.
Thyago Vieira: A second pitch. You’d expect a guy with triple-digit heat to strike out more than 46 batters over 54 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. His second pitch has classically been a curve or slider depending on who’s describing it, but he’s also toyed around with a splitter and changeup in an attempt to find something that can get hitters off his fastball. A start in Charlotte seems beneficial to everybody unless Don Cooper and Curt Hasler have an instant fix up their sleeves.
Guys who weren’t or aren’t available
Luis Alexander Basabe: Knee. The third player in the Chris Sale trade was a popular top-10 White Sox prospect and a sleeper top-100 case as a switch-hitting center fielder with speed and the potential for power. Alas, he hit just .221/.320/.320 with 104 strikeouts over 107 games in Winston-Salem. He missed the last three weeks of the season with knee surgery, and the Sox said he’d been playing through it, which might explain the lack of progress. Still, he was a 20-year-old in A-ball, so he can theoretically afford to repeat a level. I say “theoretically” because a super-crowded A-ball outfield picture may force other plans.
Zack Burdi: Elbow. The Downers Grove South product would have likely been a prominent feature of the Opening Day bullpen had he not fallen victim to Tommy John surgery in July. He struck out 51 batters to 17 walks over 33⅓ innings for Charlotte in 2017. The walks are high-ish, but not surprising considering the aggressive assignment for a first full pro season.
The surgery shouldn’t alter the course of his career dramatically, but it might delay him from addressing the other weakness on his resume — the lack of consecutive appearances. He’s only pitched on back-to-back days once as a pro, and it did not go well.
Spencer Adams: Finger. Adams was a notable omission from the spring training non-roster invitee list, and that’s because he tore a ligament in his finger during his last start of the 2017 season. That said, he had problems in his previous eight starts.
It looked like Adams planted his prospect flag with a 12-strikeout performance against Mobile on July 11. That gave him a 3.63 ERA and a respectable 20.4 percent strikeout rate as he crossed the 100-innings mark.
Instead, the ground underneath him eroded. Over his last nine starts, he gave up a whopping 66 hits and 22 walks to just 24 strikeouts over 46 innings. The 6.26 ERA could’ve been worse considering he’d allowed nearly a 1.000 OPS in a pitcher-friendly environment. Like Basabe, one hopes the injury was bothering him longer than he let on.
(The difference between Adams/Basabe and Micker Adolfo is the latter’s clear strides before his end-of-season injury, but I suppose we should note the broken hand somewhere in this section.)
Luis Curbelo: Knee. The White Sox have only selected a total of two high-school players during the first 10 rounds of the last two drafts, and Curbelo was the only one who actually expected to play baseball (the White Sox lured Sam Abbott away from a water polo scholarship).
The Sox paid Curbelo well over slot — $700,000 for a sixth-round pick worth $286,700 — to give the Sox draft class a much-needed dose of projectability. They gave the 19-year-old infielder an aggressive assignment by starting him in Great Falls, and he responded well in what turned out to be a very small sample. He went 6-for-14 with a homer and a double before tearing a meniscus in his knee.
He was healthy enough to surface in both the instructional league and Todd Steverson’s minicamp, but he may not have enough reps to withstand a full-season assignment just yet.
Coming Thursday: Last year’s draft and more.